Written by  :  weregamer (169)
Written on  :  Mar 30, 2004
Rating  :  4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars

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A real horror game, in the spirit of King and Lovecraft, not just blood and gore

The Good

Wow! For the first time since the original _Alone in the Dark_ and "Legacy: Realm of Terror", a "horror" game that is really creepy instead of just gory. The game story is interesting and well-told, and the game is not so difficult that you won't be able to finish the story. While nowhere near as complex as the two classics I mentioned, let alone a Lovecraftian novel or FtF game, the story is still a little deeper than the usual "survival horror" genre story.

The visuals are up to modern standards - the main protagonist in particular is rendered completely realistically, though some of the ancillary characters like servants and nurses in historical settings are too dark and a bit polygon-ey.

The sound, though, is extremely well-done and extremely well-used to convey the mood, especially of your character's Sanity. At full sanity, you get background music and atmospheric sounds. With a little sanity loss, you start hearing phantom noises. Then the music fades and is replaced by formless, wordless voices and whispers. By the time your sanity hits bottom you are surrounded by hallucinatory voices and screams. The voices of the Ancients are also both well scripted and well rendered - the first time I heard the Ancient of Madness speak it sent shivers up my spine, and I plan to play the game through twice more to see the variations with each of the other options for which Ancient is plotting to return, at least as much to hear their voices as to earn the final special ending.

The other main "sanity" effect, the programmed hallucinations, is also extremely effective. The game is immersive enough that some of the "player-level" hallucinations combine with the haunting sound environment to provide a sense of reality shock, instead of seeming cheap the way they might out of context. The "character level" hallucinations vary in effectiveness, from stock psychological melodrama to eerie reality warps.

The framework of the story, taking control of various historical characters as your main character "reads" their biographies in the Book, is a nice, consistent way to get some of the advantages of a time travel plot without the big problems of fitting such a high-ramification thing consistently into a GameCube mini-CD game. The way the player recognizes the locations of earlier entries as later ones encounter them centuries later - exactly like the character reading the Book would - is particularly clever. There's a great deal of care taken for internal consistency, which is something I've learned not to expect from most console RPGs, let alone "survival horror" games.

The Bad

Of course, so much quality density uses up storage space very quickly. The game is a little short, perhaps 12 hours of playtime. Even if you play through all three times, that's less than 40 hours which is very short by my standards.

And although it's disguised very well and with great consistency, the actual play is rather linear. Locks, magical force fields, magical illusions, the reasons why you are forced to go through each sub-story in a particular order, and to do things in a particular order within a substory, are well-done and don't feel arbitrary, but they are definitely there. Certainly this is the least annoyed I've ever been by linearity, and linearity is after all the norm on console games.

The Bottom Line

When I bought my GameCube, I completely expected a poor selection of games that I'd like. I wanted to play the remake of Skies of Arcadia, and to use the GBA Player, and I wasn't surprised that there was basically nothing else I wanted to play. Then I found this game. I suddenly feel that the GameCube purchase was not a waste. This is the most pleased I've been with a console game in years - I think since the original Skies of Arcadia back on the Dreamcast. Intelligent horror, well done, with a real, effective sense of creepiness instead of cheap gore. Wonderful!